Monday, October 08, 2007

Andy Warhol – ‘The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)’

I can’t work out whether Warhol has the biggest or the smallest ego, so absorbed is he in his coterie, but so aware of it, and so – selfless (if that didn’t mean generous) within it. And then you come across a passage like:

I can only understand really amateur performers or really bad performers, because whatever they do never really comes off, so therefore it can’t be phoney. But I can never understand really good, professional performances. (p. 82)

Which is reminiscent of the whole outsider music idea, that music made by people who don’t realise that their performance falls short of their ambition can be made great by that gap, because it lacks inhibition and has enthusiasm in spades; and also because, being less constructed than more self aware art, it is more revealing of the performer’s personality / soul / demons. And what is art, if not the soul stripped bare? And whose art is less like the soul stripped bare than Warhol’s?

But when he put it like that, the first thing I thought of was Geoffrey Fletcher and the way he uses old buildings as a way of experiencing the lives of the people who first lived in them. That the buildings he chooses are not the grandest or most famous is crucial to this: the over-exposed, over-preserved building is the equivalent of the professional performer Warhol mentions. He continues:

Every professional performer I’ve ever seen always does exactly the same thing at exactly the same moment in every show they do. […] What I like are things that are different every time.

This makes some sense of Warhol’s movie-directing. The only time I’m aware that a film of his was shown on British television was the ‘Peel Slowly and See’ night BBC2 did when The Velvet Underground reformed (1993?), and centre stage was The Chelsea Girls, chosen for its short running time (3 hours) and relative accessibility (it was completely unwatchable, if I remember right, but it did have Nico in it). The idea was clearly to just let the actors improvise for as long as they liked, and then to use all the footage in the final film. I’d always supposed this to be an act of passive aggressive New York cool, not unlike Metal Machine Music, say, but – what if Warhol was actually interested in the bad performances on screen, and in the people who gave them? It’s possible.

Some other stuff he says:

The President has so much good publicity potential that hasn’t been exploited. He should just sit down one day and make a list of all the things that people are embarrassed to do, and then do them all on television.

Sometimes B and I fantasize about what I would do it I were President – how I would use my TV time. (p. 100)

If you lived in Canada you might have a million trees making oxygen for you alone, so each of those trees isn’t working that hard. Whereas a tree in a treepot in Times Square has to make oxygen for a million people. (p. 154)

Damien wouldn’t let me disillusion her. Some people have deep-rooted long-standing art fantasies. I remember a freezing winter night a couple of years ago when I was dropping her off at two-thirty in the morning after a very social party and she made me take her to Times Square to find a record store that was open so she could buy Blonde On Blonde and get back in touch with ‘real people’. Some people have deep rooted long-standing art fantasies and they really stick with them. (pp. 178-9)

‘B’ is whoever Andy (‘A’) has as a companion at the time, everyone being interchangeable. The whole book has this tone apart from the chapter ‘The Tingle – How to Clean Up American Style’, in which the B on the other end of the phone is given free reign to talk about cleaning, tidying and washing for page after page. It’s boring at first, but it becomes sort of hypnotic, and the occasional pay-off line (Warhol keeps sneaking off to the kitchen to get more jam to eat with a spoon, which breaks things up a little) is funnier for the build up. Maybe the films do this too. The tone is the main thing here though, and it’s accomplished in a way which breaks Warhol’s own ‘bad performers’ rule. He may have spent his career as a painter not painting, but he can really write, he can really dead pan.


Tim Footman said...

I like the one about how he learns more about someone from watching them buy underwear than from reading a book they wrote.

Chris said...

Must be why he devotes a section to a trip to a department store to buy jockeys. I still like his book, though.

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